God save our men!

Recent celebrations surrounding the Queen’s 90th birthday have once more provoked the old question “what is the definitive version of the National Anthem?”

This is the musical equivalent of “how long is a piece of string?”  The song which we would now recognise as God save the Queen/King emerged in the 18th century and its first verse, at least, fairly quickly assumed the form that we use today.  But if we feel squeamish about that second verse, with its “Confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks”, what about Marshall Wade crushing those rebellious Scots?

Adding or removing verses to suit the political climate of the time has a long pedigree.  In the 19th century, the loyal subscribers to Manchester’s Gentlemen’s concerts greeted the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 with:

Long may Victoria’s hand,

O’er Albion’s sea-girt land,

The sceptre wield!

Long may her Navy ride,

Triumphant o’er the tide,

Her Army valour’s pride,

Be England’s shield.



Long o’er a nation free,

May fair Victoria be,

The Sovereign seen;

May ev’ry heart rejoice,

And with uplifted voice,

Hail her Heaven’s gift most choice,

God save the Queen!

Following the death of Prince Albert in December 1861, subscribers where informed that:

The Concert will commence by the performance of the NATIONAL ANTHEM, with the following additional Stanza, written expressly for Mr. LESLIE’S Choir. By Mr. W.H. BELLAMY,


Oh! Thou whose chastening hand

Now lies on this our land,

God bless our Queen!

Hear Thou her people’s prayers,

Dry Thou, O God, her tears,

Guide her in all her cares,

God save the Queen!

There are other examples from the 19th century, but it is during the First World War that Manchester audiences would have heard countless performances of the National Anthem and in various amended versions.  “God save the King”, included in concerts as an orchestral item far more frequently than is the case these days, became de rigueur in concerts given by choral societies, often with the expectancy of audience participation, as was the case, for example, at concerts given by Stockport Choral Union.  The Gentlemen’s Glee Club – a mixed choir by 1914, despite its name –  abandoned its usual practice of starting each concert with Samuel Webbe’s “Glorious Apollo” and began instead with “God save the King”.

In December 1916, New Moston Philharmonic Society sang a version of the National Anthem which not only included a verse from William Hickson’s version of 1836:

God bless our native land,

My his protecting hand

Still guard our shore;

May peace her power extend,

Foe be transformed to friend,

And Britain’s rights depend

On war no more.

… but also these, more recent and apposite ones.

O Lord our allies bless,

Who in the time of stress,

Firm with us stand;

On them thy goodness shower,

Who in the darksome hour,

When the black war clouds lower

With us join hand.


May all who fight for right

Be strengthened with thy might,

That war may cease.

Comfort the hearts than mourn,

And grant that soon may dawn

On this world, tempest-torn,

The day of peace.


Clara Butt, on her Whitsun tour that year, had given her audiences:

Lord, let war’s tempests cease,

Fold the whole world in peace

Under thy wing.

Make all the nations one,

All hearts beneath the sun,

Till thou shalt reign alone,

Great King of Kings.

Perhaps the strangest additional verse – and certainly one of the least demonstrative of literary merit – was heard in a concert of thanksgiving given shortly after the war by the Gentlemen’s Glee Club:

God save our splendid men,

Bring them safe home again,

God save our men!

Keep them victorious,

Patient and chivalrous,

They are so dear to us,

God save our men!

Maybe those references to knavish tricks weren’t so odd after all!

Geoff Thomason


















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